Music sets the mood

There is hardly anything else that can unleash as much power as live music. But what if a person can no longer participate in concerts and performances due to high age? Anette Zanker-Belz has a solution: musical house calls.

Anette Zanker-Belz steps into a room filled with memorabilia. The room belongs to a New Apostolic senior who can no longer leave her home. While all of her physical needs have been met, she misses her community and culture. That is why she is especially happy to see Anette enter her room: the 40-year old has brought a suitcase full of music with her.

After a warm welcome, the two of them sing the opening verses from Lebenslang Musik, a song that Anette has written specifically for these visits. It doesn’t matter at all that the senior can no longer hit all the right notes. The main thing is that she is having fun. A song on the violin, a couple of folk songs, and a few church hymns—and the senior’s eyes light up. Even though she is in a lying position, she cannot help but move to the music. She even plays along to one of the songs on a simple table harp. After nearly an hour, the woman is exhausted—but happy.

Music without barriers

Geragogy is the science of education in advanced age. Anette Zanker-Belz likes to invite the elderly to enjoy some music together. It was for this reason that she established the Lebenslang Musik [Music for life] initiative. This allows people in advanced age to actively participate in making and enjoying music—without barriers and in their own homes.

The musical geragogue first came into contact with music as a child. She learned to play the violin at an early age, and her family is fond of making music. Her congregation also contributed a great deal to Anette’s love for music. At the age of fourteen, she began to help along as a choir leader, and also started playing in her congregational and district orchestras. As she recalls: “There were many who inspired me, accompanied me along the way, and promoted my abilities.”

Music for support

It was also a matter of course for Anette’s parents to take her along with them whenever they made visits to elderly members who could no longer attend the divine services. “There I stood at the nursing home bed of an elderly lady and asked myself—from a purely childlike perspective, of course: ‘What does this woman do all day in bed? It must be so boring! And she must feel terribly lonely!’”

Later on she began to wonder about what her own life might be like when she reached such an advanced age. Two sisters from her present congregation of Heilbronn, both of them over the age of 80, ultimately became the catalyst for her musical house visits. For years, the two of them had already been visiting members who cannot attend the services any more. “And they do this with so much love and commitment!” It was then that Anette decided to support the pair with what she does best: music.

Music as an experience

After initially working in the field of publishing for some time, there came a point in time when Sister Zanker-Belz decided to make music her profession and inspire other people to share her passion. She studied music, German, and history, and finally became a teacher. She acquired other qualifications in the field of musical education on the side. She has since led children’s choirs, youth choirs, and adult choirs, and has realised many choral projects, intergenerational workshops, and concerts. She has also moderated family concerts, worked along in a CD production, and written expert papers on musical pedagogy and musical geragogy.

In all of these activities, she began to notice that musical and cultural activities for the elderly were in rather short supply. In 2019 our sister completed her degree in geragogy, as well as some further training in musical geragogy, and began to make musical house visits to seniors and nursing homes as a freelancer.

Music as a calling

Her aim is to be a blessing for others using the same gift that brings her so much personal joy. She also regards Jesus Christ as her role model in this endeavour: “He made it possible for all people to participate. He approached the sick, the elderly, the poor, and the sinners, and took them all by the hand. And He met them all at eye level,” she explains.

The Music for Life concept helps seniors, inspires amateur musicians, and brings the two groups together. A visit should not take longer than an hour and should not contain too many programming elements. The things Anette Zanker-Belz brings to a home visit depends on the preferences and interests of the elderly members she happens to be visiting. She says that she has found her calling in this work.

Music for pastoral care

The musical geragogue has led several online seminars on making music with the elderly as part of the Church’s own Academy of Southern Germany. She has done the same for the NAC of Northern and Eastern Germany. Her aim is to inspire other members to help enable elderly members to more fully participate in church life—even if it has to be outside under the window while the coronavirus pandemic rages.

“Music can open the door for a good conversation,” she finds. You can use it to establish rapport in the first place, and the content of the songs also provides you with a good topic of conversation. “On top of that, you can also bring along a suitable passage from the Bible, and suddenly you have a pastoral visit that is much easier for you personally. The person making the visit will then likely take at least as much out of the visit as the person receiving the visit.”

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Katrin Löwen
Congregational life